“Soooooo . . .”
I turned around to see a girl about my age gripping the edges of the pilot’s door, a crooked smile on her face. She tilted her head to one side, her dark ponytail swinging.
“We’re sort of wondering where we’re going.” She looked from me to Callum. “And who you guys are.”
A younger Reboot stood on his toes to peek over her shoulder. “I heard Addie say she was One-seventy-eight.”
“Yeah,” I said, holding my hand out. “Wren. One-seventy-eight.”
She raised her eyebrows as she shook my hand. “Beth. One-forty-two.”
“Callum,” he said. He didn’t offer his number, but I saw her glance at his wrist and frown in confusion.
“We’re headed north,” I said. “Toward the old Texas border. There’s supposedly a Reboot reservation there.”
The Reboots behind her got quieter, several of them shuffling closer to hear.
“Where Reboots are living by themselves?” Beth asked.
“Yes. That’s what we’ve heard, anyway. We have a map.”
Beth’s eyes bounced around the shuttle. “Don’t you think you might scare the crap out of them, arriving in a couple HARC shuttles?”
“We’re landing several miles from the reservation and we’ll walk in.” I left out the part where the human rebels suggested we do that, to avoid getting shot down. We could fill them in about the rebels later.
Beth looked from me to Callum. The way everyone stood behind her quietly made me think she was one of the highest numbers in the Austin facility, if not the very highest.
She let out a soft laugh, taking a few steps back. “Interesting plan. I hope it works.” She jerked her head toward the front window. “Some of you guys should take a look.”
I turned my attention forward as a few Reboots stepped into the pilot’s area. The shuttles weren’t meant to fly too far off the ground, so we weren’t high above the trees. Open land spread out in front of us, a lake sparkling in the distance. I could see pieces of old, deserted highways where greenery was poking through the black asphalt.
Callum leaned forward in his chair, blinking at the scene around him. He was still a little pale, but otherwise looked like himself.
“Do you feel okay?” I asked softly, scooting sideways until I could put my hand on his leg.
He turned, taking my hand and pressing his lips against it. “I’m fine.”
He slid one hand up my neck and inched forward until he could press his lips to mine. I reached for his hand, melting into the kiss. Behind me, someone cleared her throat.
“Are we kissing or flying?” Beth asked, her annoyance tinged with amusement.
I pulled away from Callum with a grin. “Right. Flying.”
The shuttle quieted some as we continued north, the occasional Reboot wandering up front to check out the view. The land was mostly trees and grass, but there was an occasional animal or two. We flew over a big group of cows at one point, and I wondered how the Reboots in the reservation got food. Did they hunt? Farm?
The Austin Reboots didn’t spend too much time up front with me and Callum. They mostly spoke in hushed whispers behind us, casting suspicious glances our way. I couldn’t really blame them.
Many of the Reboots stared at me but didn’t come over to talk, and I ran my finger over the 178 printed on my wrist.
“You think the numbers will matter there?” I asked quietly.
“I hope not,” Callum said, leaning back with a sigh. “I mean, I don’t think so. HARC is the one who started all that.”
But we bought into it. We separated ourselves into groups and acted accordingly. I glanced back at Beth, who was standing with two girls and a guy. I didn’t even need to ask to know they were the One-twenties of the Austin facility. Their faces were serious, the guy’s eyebrows knitted together as he listened to Beth. The other Reboots milled around them, but no one came too close.
I had no idea how Reboots would divide themselves up when left to their own devices. Maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe Callum was right, and the numbers wouldn’t matter without HARC around.
I looked up at him and smiled, turning my wrist over so I couldn’t see my number. I hoped so.
Callum straightened suddenly, pointing in front of him.
I turned to his window to see the remains of a city. It was bigger than any one I’d known and lay smack in the middle of a circle of highways. Parts of the city looked untouched from this distance, but as we flew closer I could see destroyed buildings.
“Which city was that?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I think we’re too far west for the original Dallas or Fort Worth.” He looked at me with a smile. “We should go see those sometime. I heard they’re huge.”
I’d never considered going to any of the old cities. I wouldn’t have guessed it would be appealing, but I felt a spark of excitement at the prospect. “We should.”
Addie’s shuttle started to descend about twenty minutes later, and I held my hand out to Callum. “Helmet. Put yours on, too.” I glanced at the Reboots in back. “Everyone put your helmets on and brace yourselves!”
“But I don’t see anything,” Callum said worriedly as he handed my helmet over and strapped on his own.
I scanned the area in front of us. The land was pretty flat, but I couldn’t see that far at this height.
“We’re landing a few miles out,” I said. “We still have to walk a ways.”
He nodded, taking one more glance around as we headed for the earth. “We’re totally going to crash, aren’t we?”
I grinned at him. “Probably.”
I pushed the lever down and tried to lower the shuttle slowly, but the ground was suddenly right there and we were smashing into it. I locked my arms against the dash as we flipped once, twice, three times. We ended up on our sides, Callum crumpled against the window, and when I pulled off my seat belt I tumbled on top of him.
“Sorry,” I said with a laugh, grabbing the edge of the driver’s seat to pull my way to the door. I shoved it open and crawled out, landing in orange-red dirt. Addie’s shuttle skidded to a stop a few yards away, and I squinted at it in the sun. She’d had a rough landing, too, but at least they didn’t flip. The land beyond her shuttle was flat and dry, the sky stretching out massively above the red dirt.
A strong wind whipped across my face as I offered my hand to Callum and he climbed out beside me. I opened the back door of the shuttle to see the Reboots were all piled on top of one another but grinning, their eyes wide as they took in the scene behind me. They chatted happily as they emerged.